PENSACOLA, Fla. — A federal judge declared the Obama administration’s health care overhaul unconstitutional Monday, siding with 26 states that sued to block it, saying that people can’t be required to buy health insurance.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson agreed with the states that the new law violates people’s rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties. He went a step further than a previous ruling against the law, declaring the entire thing unconstitutional if the insurance requirement does not hold up.
Attorneys for the administration had argued that the states did not have standing to challenge the law and that the case should be dismissed.
The final step will almost certainly be the U.S. Supreme Court. Two other federal judges have already upheld the law and a federal judge in Virginia ruled the insurance mandate unconstitutional but stopped short of voiding the entire thing.
At issue was whether the government is reaching beyond its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce by requiring citizens to purchase health insurance or face tax penalties.
Vinson said it is, writing in his 78-page ruling that if the government can require people to buy health insurance, it could also regulate food the same way.
“Or, as discussed during oral argument, Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals,” he wrote, “Not only because the required purchases will positively impact interstate commerce, but also because people who eat healthier tend to be healthier, and are thus more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system.”
Obama administration attorneys had argued that the health care system was part of the interstate commerce system. They said the government can levy a tax penalty on Americans who decide not to purchase health insurance because all Americans are consumers of medical care.
But attorneys for the states said the administration was essentially coercing the states into participating in the overhaul by holding billions of Medicaid dollars hostage. The states also said the federal government is violating the Constitution by forcing a mandate on the states without providing money to pay for it.
Florida’s former Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the lawsuit just minutes after President Barack Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law in March. He chose a court in Pensacola, one of Florida’s most conservative cities. The nation’s most influential small business lobby, the National Federation of Independent Business, also joined.
Officials in the states that sued lauded Vinson’s decision. Almost all of them have Republican governors, attorneys general or both.
“In making his ruling, the judge has confirmed what many of us knew from the start; ObamaCare is an unprecedented and unconstitutional infringement on the liberty of the American people,” Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.
Other states that joined the suit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.